POLITICS
18/12/2019 6:22 PM IST | Updated 27/12/2019 11:55 AM IST

The Idea Of India: We, The People Fight Religious Bigotry

Indians have come together to fight a discriminatory citizenship law that violates the secular principles on which India was founded.

Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Protesters with banners and placards continue their protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens on December 17, 2019 in New Delhi, India. 

Welcome to the year-end instalment of The Idea of IndiaHuffPost India’s monthly conversation about how we see ourselves as a people and as a nation.

‌The Indian Parliament passed the Citizenship Amendment Billtriggering protests across the country. “I want to save my country. I want to save the constitution,” said Imran Chaudhury, a PhD scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia University, who joined the protests in Delhi. This time, the Narendra Modi government may have misjudged how people and political parties, who have learnt to look away more often than not, would react to a law that makes religion the basis for determining Indian citizenship. For many Indians, this new law violates the secular principles on which India was founded. 

‌The Delhi Police’s violent attack on protestors in Jamia Millia Islamia University in Delhi spurred other college campuses to protest the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Prime Minister Modi responded to the protests by saying, “You can easily make out who is spreading violence by the clothes they wear.”

The CAA offers a path to citizenship to all religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, but not Muslims. When read along with nationwide National Register of Citizens (NRC), which Home Minister Amit Shah appears determined to roll out, the new law means that Hindus and Muslims living without papers would be treated differently.

‌The Northeastern states have been agitating against the Amendment before the rest of the country caught on. The complexity of the situation can be gauged by the protests in Assam, the only state to have undergone the NRC. The protests in Assam are not driven by concerns for secularism, but rather by fears the new law will allow non Assamese immigrants ― irrespective of religion ― to settle in the state. 

I want to save my country. I want to save the constitution

PhD scholar Imran Chaudhury, the first person from his village in Haryana to graduate college, described how the police broke into the Jamia Millia Islamia University library, fired tear gas and beat the students. Hundreds of students were then marched off campus with their arms raised. It is this walk that Imran found to be devastating and making a mockery of everything that he had worked so hard to achieve.

‌He said, “I don’t know why I was made to feel small, as if I did not matter, my dignity did not matter.”

I don’t know why I was made to feel small, as if I did not matter, my dignity did not matter.

Umar Khalid, who, since his days as a student leader at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, has emerged as a vocal critic of the Modi government, said the sceptre of a nationwide NRC and the CAA is terrifying Indian Muslims, who are hunting for documents they feel could prove their citizenship.

Khalid believes their time would be better spent in civil disobedience. He for one is not planning to give his documents. “I’m clear I’m not giving my documents to anyone. Even if I have them, I’m not giving those documents,” he said.

I’m clear I’m not giving my documents to anyone.

Rajya Sabha lawmaker Subramanian Swamy said the Hindutva agenda does not end with Ayodhya verdict which gave the disputed site on which the Babri Masjid once stood to the Hindu side to construct a Ram Temple.

Swamy, who is with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, said the hopes and dreams of Hindus will be fulfilled when the temples in Mathura and Varanasi are also restored, and he plans to try and get Parliament to amend the Places of Worship Act that safeguard against changing the religious character of places. “When all three are restored, the matter is over,” he said, “It’s an Act. It cannot supersede my fundamental right to pray.”

It’s an Act. It cannot supersede my fundamental right to pray.

We end the final instalment of the newsletter for 2019 with an interview with Rahul Sagar, a professor at New York University, who has created a database of all the Indian periodicals from the 19th and 20th century. The ideas of India database, as it is called, gathers manuscripts scattered all over the world, as far afield as Tasmania and Durban.

‌Sagar explains that he has mapped close to 300 pre-independence era periodicals carrying 300,000 essays and explains how to access them.

The next step is digitising the content. One of the very earliest essays was Goday Vencat Juggarow’s “Astronomical Tables and Observations” published in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science in 1835.

“People should read these periodicals to see how diverse and vibrant and rich Indian intellectual life has been,” he said.

People should read these periodicals to see how diverse and vibrant and rich Indian intellectual life has been.

Thank you for your feedback on our newsletter. 

An American lawyer from Pakistan writing in from the United States, Asif Faiz, makes an observation about the Kashmir edition. “I wish you could cover the Pakistani side of things. I hope a day comes when you would be able to do so. You would be surprised how similar are the sentiments on both sides of LOC about J&K’s autonomy,” he writes.

‌Faiz says he would like a newsletter on Kashmiri Pandits, Dogras and Ladakhis. We’ll work on it.

‌You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

‌Please do share your thoughts: What is your Idea of India? Write to me at betwa.sharma@huffpost.in.